Scientists are conspicuously missing from Trump’s government
By Chris Mooney
Mar 13 2017
President Trump has moved to fill just one of 46 key science and technology positions that help the government counter risks ranging from chemical and biological attacks to rising seas, a Washington Post analysis has found.
The vacancies in the 46 Senate-confirmed posts range from the president’s science adviser, to the administrators of NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to the chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. The Post analysis was based on a listing of top federal science and technology positions compiled by the National Academy of Sciences, combined with an ongoing analysis by The Washington Post and the Partnership for Public Service of over 500 key Senate-confirmed government slots that must be filled.
Trump’s first nominee to one of these top science posts, named on Friday, is physician Scott Gottlieb for Food and Drug Administration commissioner. With this move, Trump actually found a candidate for this job earlier than Barack Obama did in 2009.
But that’s the exception — in general, the slow pace of filling these positions puts Trump well behind his predecessor. Other administrations have been slow to populate senior science posts, but policy experts say that Trump’s stands out because of its combination of thin science staffing with sharp proposed budget cuts to government science programs.
“I think it’s been common over the decades for science appointments to lag — in other words, science is often not seen as a priority,” said physicist Rush Holt, a former member of Congress and now the chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “It seems worse now, and it’s not just because the appointments are slow, but there really has been not even any rhetoric from the administration that shows that they think science is important to them.”
Meanwhile, Trump “beachhead teams” at federal agencies, whose members do not require Senate confirmation, have included people whose views diverge from science consensus positions, such as the former Heritage Foundation fellow David Kreutzer at the Environmental Protection Agency. Kreutzer has written that “no consensus exists that man-made emissions are the primary driver of global warming.” The head of that agency, Scott Pruitt, also recently made a striking statement challenging the human causation of climate change, leading to widespread criticism.
In response to queries about the filling of science positions and the Post’s analysis, the White House said it would not comment on matters involving personnel.
But it is far from clear that Trump intends to fill all of these roles: Recently, the president told Fox News that he may not fill many political posts in his government. “A lot of those jobs, I don’t want to appoint, because they’re unnecessary to have,” Trump said. Meanwhile, staff members at the Council on Environmental Quality were directed to move out of their historic headquarters near the White House last month.
Trump also signed an executive order Monday outlining a “comprehensive” plan to reshape the federal government’s executive branch, directing his Office of Management and Budget to come up with a plan, over the course of the next half year or more, that may include “recommendations to eliminate unnecessary agencies, components of agencies, and agency programs, and to merge functions.” This could potentially lead to elimination of some science related programs and positions.
There could also be more mundane reasons for the delay in filling jobs, such as the difficulty the president has had in getting his Cabinet nominees confirmed. These delays make it difficult to move down the ladder and consider lower-ranking agency posts.
“In general, administrations have been slow off the mark in filling their jobs,” said Max Stier, the president and chief executive of the Partnership for Public Service, which monitors the federal government’s workforce, including the more than 500 Senate-confirmed leadership jobs that each administration must fill. “This administration has been even slower.”